Scott Adams Blog: Online Confusopoly 12/07/2011

Do you remember when online shopping was new, and it hardly ever worked? The Internet was so slow that it seemed faster to drive to the store. In the early days, few things were available online. And the shopping sites had an annoying habit of crashing before you completed your purchase.

Over time, the online shopping sites got their act together. The Internet got faster, the selection improved, and buying online was far easier than visiting a store. That wonderful situation lasted until, oh, this year.

Have you tried to buy anything online lately? Yesterday my wife, Shelly, helpfully handed me a catalog with some items circled as “suggestions” I might consider buying her for Christmas. Perfect, I thought. I’ll have this stuff ordered online in five minutes.

Then Shelly pointed to the discount code number for this retailer and reminded me to enter it for the buy-one-thing-get-another-free promotion. No problem. It added some complication, but not much. I figured I’d just type a number in a box. Bingo-bango.

Then Shelly handed me a gift card she got from some sort of loyalty program, with its own code, for some additional discounts. Okay. I’ll figure this out. Two complications is no problem.

Then Shelly explained she wanted two items, and each would have its own free thing that comes with it, and each was different. Now I’m wondering if the promotional code applies to just one thing or everything, and when will I know the right time to enter it for multiple item purchases? Hmm. I’m starting to confuse myself. But I’ll figure this out.

Then Shelly pointed to the expiration date for this deal. I only had a few hours! I needed to drop what I was doing. Suddenly this project went from awesome to inconvenient. I had better things to do in the next few hours.

When I went to the retailer’s site, I noticed it offered free shipping for purchases over $100. My purchase would be near the limit, but would my discount code and gift card push me back below it? Now things are getting complicated because I have a thousand things on my mind and I’m not sure I can remember to apply the discount code, use the gift card, request the free item, and game the system for free shipping. And there are some codes on the back of the magazine that seem important. Do they matter?

Next I need to navigate to the page for my item. No problem, I think. But I didn’t count on the site being designed by terrorists. The site starts by begging me to register so they have me on file. No thanks. I try to search for my items, but I’m being attacked by pop up ads and offers. No! No! Dammit, NO! I swat them back and press on through the over-designed pages with too much detail and too little clarity. Finally, I find the items I seek, despite the site designers’ excellent effort in making the navigation difficult so I would see lots of other stuff I don’t want.

Luckily, I have Norton’s Identity Safe that lets me fill in forms automatically with my name, address, and credit card. But Norton keeps filling in my phone number wrong. And every time I fix it manually, it somehow reverts back to wrong. This takes seven retries.

Meanwhile, I notice it’s doing the same thing with the credit card number. It’s insisting on auto-filling with my old credit card number, not the one I signed up for to get airlines miles, which was another giant headache. I could edit the Identity Safe database so this doesn’t happen, but that’s ten minutes of additional problems I’m not willing to take on. Just…let…me…do…this.

But does my preferred credit card have any available balance, I wonder? I remembered seeing an email that said my statement was ready. I track down the email, and from there headed online to check my balance. While I was logged in, it seemed efficient to pay off the credit card. Now I’m drifting further from my core task, and the timer is ticking on the sale window. I return to the retail site.

But there’s a complication. The item has some size options I wasn’t expecting. Now I have to hunt down Shelly and query her. I repeat the hunting and querying two more times for other questions I wasn’t expecting to encounter.

When it was time to check out, my tally came to $99. I was one dollar short of free shipping. Screw it. I was too close to the finish line. I completed my purchase and ate the shipping costs. Now I hate the retailer with a white hot vengeance for making me work so hard to do something so simple.

This experience wasn’t unique. Another big retailer put me through an even worse hassle for an item that, when I finally got to checkout, wasn’t actually available. My point is that online shopping has gone from convenient to intentionally complicated, and I don’t see that changing. Amazingly, I now prefer driving to the store, fighting for parking, and simply handing my item and my credit card to a sales clerk. I’d even pay extra for the convenience.

Is it just me, or has buying online become a pain in the ass?

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